Well, it is about the end of the first half of the baseball season and again I’ve failed to product much content. Only way to remedy that is to try and try again to produce more. Rather than write out a post off my All-Star picks, which I considered, I would rather write a little more in depth about a few seasons not enough people are talking about. Though, for the record, here are my picks right now for All-Stars:
AL: Joe Mauer (C), Jason Castro (C), Carlos Santana (C/1B), Chris Davis (1B), Edwin Encarnacion (1B), Dustin Pedroia (2B), Robinson Cano (2B), Jason Kipnis (2B), Jhonny Peralta (SS), J.J. Hardy (SS), Miguel Cabrera (3B), Manny Machado (3B), Evan Longeria (3B), Josh Donaldson (3B), Mike Trout (OF), Jacoby Ellsbury (OF), Jose Bautista (OF), Brett Gardner (OF), Colby Rasmus (OF), Alex Gordon (OF), Max Scherzer (SP), Anibal Sanchez (SP), Felix Hernandez (SP), Justin Verlander (SP), Yu Darvish (SP), Chris Sale (SP), Derek Holland (SP), James Shields (SP), Clay Buchholz (SP), Jesse Crain (RP), Drew Smyly (RP), Mariano Rivera (RP)
Injury replacements: Hishahi Iwakuma (SP, for Buchholz), Joe Nathan (RP, for Crain)
NL: Yadier Molina (C), Buster Posey (C), Russell Martin (C), Joey Votto (1B), Paul Goldschmidt (1B), Matt Carpenter (2B), Marco Scutaro (2B), Troy Tulowitzski (SS), Jean Segura (SS), Everth Cabrera (SS), David Wright (3B), Pedro Alvarez (3B), Carlos Gomez (OF), Carlos Gonzalez (OF), Michael Cuddyer (OF), Andrew McCutchen (OF), Gerardo Parra (OF), Giancarlo Stanton (OF), Yasiel Puig (OF), Shin-Soo Choo (OF), Adam Wainwright (SP), Matt Harvey (SP), Cliff Lee (SP), Clayton Kershaw (SP), Jordan Zimmerman (SP), Mat Latos (SP), Jeff Samardjiza (SP), Homer Bailey (SP), Shelby Miller (SP), Stephen Strasburg (SP), Jason Grilli (RP), Mark Melancon (RP), Trevor Rosenthal (RP)
Injury replacements: Ian Desmond (SS, for Tulowitski)
Tulo is hurt right now so I’d probably add Ian Desmond to replace him. I also only have three relievers per squad and that’s a bias against them, but I am on the mind that I don’t really want to see a bunch of relievers at the All-Star game and I don’t believe most of them have that much surplus value. With that in mind, I’m going to write a few blurbs on the players that stand out for me as having underrated seasons, Let’s start with some AL players.
Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros:
Castro has gotten some recent love on Fangraphs for being the best Astros player this year. Naturally, that seems like a backhand compliment, but Castro has had a solid breakout season so far. He’s hit .270/.331/.480 (124 OPS+/.294 TAv) with 12 HRs, good for a 2.4 rWAR/2.2 fWAR/2.4 WARP. Castro was a first-rounder for Houston in 2008 and though he has that pedigree, he never showed too much power in the minors. Thus, most projections don’t have him hitting for this kind of power (.210 isolated slugging). Nonetheless, Castro is, at 26, a bright spot for the Astros. He’s not a star by any means, but could he be the next Russell Martin if he adds pitch framing to his resume. At worst, he’s Jonathon LeCroy. Nothing wrong with that.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians:
Kipnis has seemed on the verge of stardom before with a few well-timed hot streaks in his past, but he hasn’t seemed to “break” out in narrative form yet. That is the natural limitations of being a Indian working out for you. Nonetheless, Kipnis has been one of the better players in the AL so far this season. His .295/.379/.517 line after an incredibly hot last month (.419/.517/.699 in June) is simply stellar for a second baseman. That amounts to a .384 wOBA/147 wRC+/151 OPS+/.319 TAv and when combined with his position and baserunning (19 steals), it is no surprise he’s toward the tops of WAR leader boards (3.8 rWAR/3.3 fWAR/3.3 WARP).
If anything, maybe Kipnis is good evidence that hitting streaks and hot starts are often overhyped because the media tends to miss stories like Kipnis’ June and his overall excellent campaign so far. That’s too bad because Kipnis is having the kind of season that made Ian Kinsler a star recently and I see no reason he can’t reach that value.
Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto Blue Jays:
Rasmus’ identity as a obnoxious personality has been established for a while in the eyes of many writers and commentators and probably plenty of players and front-office personnel. I don’t really care to comment on that. Rasmus may well be an insufferable person. He also is having a pretty good season–one at least as good, if not better than Adam Jones’–but he’s getting no publicity for it. (2.6 rWAR/3.0 fWAR/2.5 WARP vs. 1.9 rWAR/1.6 fWAR/1.5 WARP for Jones)
As mentioned here by Jeff Passan, if you just look at their OBPs/SLGs, Rasmus’ and Jones’ offensive production look quite similar. Rasmus is hitting .250/.324/.476, while Jones is hitting .291/.314/.477, but they are doing it very different ways. Rasmus strikes out 31.5% of the time–really an astounding rate–but walks 9.0% of the time. Jones never walks (2.3%) and certainly doesn’t approach Rasmus’ strikeout rate. Jones is a contact hitter. Rasmus is swinging for the fences constantly, but he’s making it work, while playing above average center field defense, at least according to all the various defensive advanced stats. (I can’t claim personal knowledge, because I simply haven’t seen much of the Blue Jays this year) Jones has, on the other hand, been the spawn of much debates over those statistics because they continue to rate him as a poor fielder despite the vehement opposition of many who believe he’s rightfully a Gold Glover. Either way, Jones gets talked about plenty and Rasmus still finds himself with the image of a “bust,” even though he’s been All-Star worthy.
James Shields, SP, Kansas City Royals
I strongly considered putting a bit up about Derek Holland, who’s been quite impressive for Rangers, striking out plenty of hitters with a killer fastball/slider combo, but Shields is my choice for other reasons. That is, his record v. performance highlights the complete absurdity of paying attention to win-loss records. I don’t know that I would have advised the Royals to make their big offseason trade for Shields, but performance-wise, he’s been exactly what they expected–his numbers are eerily similar the last three seasons. Check out his ERA/FIP/xFIP in those three years: ERA (2.82, 3.52, 3.23), FIP (3.42, 3.47, 3.55), xFIP (3.25, 3.24, 3.64). You can see the ERA fluctuates a little, but the peripherals have remained quite consistent.
And his biggest skill–durability–has been right there. He’s thrown 122 1/3 innings so far this year, good for 1.8 rWAR/2.3 fWAR. His ERA+ is 127. In other words, he’s been pretty good. But, yes, the win-loss record. He’s 3-6. My guess is that makes him unlikely to be a All-Star and that’s a shame. Naturally, his game log suggests this isn’t close to his fault. He had a run of four starts this year, going 0-3 despite allowing just 6 runs in 31 innings, with a 30/5 K/BB ratio. What gives? Well, it is simple and obvious. The Royals are not a very good team. Their bullpen actually has some great pieces in Greg Holland and Luke Hochevar (seriously), but their offense (90 OPS+) is pretty awful.
Brian Kenny has been on a twitter trek lately to “kill the win” and recently tweeted this post. I highly suggest reading it and related post and following Kenny’s campaign. Every day, Kenny has been posting great games by pitchers that have resulted in losses or no-decisions and the results have been stunning. Personally, I pay so little attention to win-losses that outside of Shields and Scherzer’s record (everyone wants to discuss 13-0), I don’t know anyone’s record. Because I honestly don’t care. Shields is just one example of why, but there are examples all over the place. We have so many great ways to access and consider the value of pitchers, but win-loss record simply isn’t one of them. It tells us nothing about what a pitcher did and as the post I linked suggests, it doesn’t even correlate well with pitching success outside of the record. The greatest thing I’ve heard lately is from Scherzer himself, who stated that his 13-0 record reflects luck and his teammates more than what he’s done–he knows he’s been on the other side of the coin before.
Carlos Gomez, CF, Milwaukee Brewers:
I love Go-Go. I also love baseball. I think these probably go together. As great as Puig has been to watch–and he has been and deserves to be at the All-Star game both based on a historically great start and the fact that he’s the kind of growing star the game needs to promote–Gomez has been sensational himself. Want highlight reel catches? Gomez, according to ESPN, has taken away four home runs this year going over the wall, including last night’s incredible takeaway from Joey Votto. By my own eyes, he makes great plays all the time in center, as I saw at a July 4th game against the Nats. Not surprisingly, his defensive rWAR (2.6), UZR (13.9), and FRAA (4.0) reflect that Gomez has been among the best defensive players in the game.
He’s also hit the ball pretty well. How about a .308/.349/.552 line (139 OPS+/.382 wOBA/.308 TAv) combined with 20 steals, 13 homers and 9 triples good for a 5.5 rWAR/5.0 fWAR/3.3 WARP? You saw that correct. Gomez might be the best player in baseball so far this season. It, of course, depends on how you feel about his defense (I’m convinced it is that good) and his .349 OBP (it is a negative), but being in that discussion is amazing for a guy who is such a joy to watch. I couldn’t be happier that he’s made the All-Star game. It is too bad he didn’t do it for the Twins, but at 27, he’s at the peak of his powers and it is awesome to see for baseball fans everywhere. My hope is that he’s still a potential MVP at the end of the season. I desperately want to advocate for him.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals:
A All-Star game without Strasburg is strange. Strasburg is obviously a rising star and he’s the kind of pitcher everyone wants to see and watch in the All-Star game–the opposite of Jeff Locke, for instance. Strasburg isn’t there for one reason: his win-loss record. As mentioned, he’s 4-6, but by all other measures, he continues to be amazing, countering this year’s narrative that Strasburg has been underwhelming. In 106 1/3 innings, Strasburg has a 107/33 K/BB ratio, which is excellent if not quite where he was last year. That’s good for a 2.45 ERA/3.22 FIP/3.41 xFIP/156 ERA+. His groundball rate is actually up to 51.1% and as most know, pitchers who have high groundball rates and strikeout rates are rare beasts that tend to dominate. He’s collected 2.4 rWAR/1.9 fWAR/1.3 WARP. He’s still averaging 95.4 MPH on his fastball. Yes, he hasn’t been quite as good, but Strasburg remains one of the best starters in the game. Somehow, that seems to have been missed and that appears to be more evidence that wins shouldn’t matter.